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Our view: Students, vote 'yes' for new union

A rendering of what the new Memorial Union would look like. Photo from UND

UND students on Tuesday will cast a historic vote — one that could transform the campus for generations of students.

Memorial Union needs an upgrade. Built in 1951, it's falling into disrepair and, worse, it may be a deterrent to enrollment growth. It lacks warmth and retail opportunities. It is not the modern gathering place today's UND students deserve, tomorrow's UND students covet, and other universities already have.

"One parent observed to me that when their child came to look at campus, the child only wanted to see three things: the wellness center, the dining hall and Memorial Union," UND President Mark Kennedy told the Herald this week.

Well, two out of three isn't bad, but it's not great in the increasingly cutthroat world of student recruitment and retention. That's why we suggest students open their minds, consider the future of the university and vote "yes" to move forward on construction of a new Memorial Union.

If approved, the project will cost $80 million. Highlights include a larger convenience store as well as more retail and food venues; a flexible multipurpose room; more study and meeting spaces; and a cozier and more inviting atmosphere. It would have additional space for student organizations, better technology throughout and a rooftop atrium patio.

The current Memorial Union is more than just outdated — it needs serious repairs, and those costs also will be shouldered by students today and tomorrow. It has water seepage through the foundation and ground-level windows; it needs a new heating and cooling system; its roof is in disrepair; and it is not ideally situated for handicap accessibility. A renovation likely will cost $40 million.

Voting in favor of the project will mean students will pay an additional $14 per credit — a fee that will increase by 2 percent annually from 2020 through 2059. If students pass the measure, it will move to the State Board of Higher Education and the Legislature. If approved at each stop, the planning process will begin. The current building would be demolished, with a new structure built on the same spot.

If students vote against the project, the new building won't happen and current deficiencies will be put on a list to be addressed. Erik Hanson, president of the student body, told the Herald that students will be assessed fees for future maintenance.

So the choice for students is this: Vote "yes" and begin a process that likely will see construction of a new $80 million building, or vote "no" and set the course for what probably will be a drawn-out, $40 million renovation project that will only put a semi-glossy shine on an outdated, uninviting building.

Some current students may say they won't benefit from the building, yet will be forced to pay for it. That's true, but as future alumni, they'll use it for events and also will have a vested interest in the well-being of the university.

Past students have made these sacrifices for today's students. Today's students are standing on the shoulders of previous generations who have made their own commitments to campus betterment.

"Yes" is the right choice.